Julio Jones vs Odell Beckham, Jr. in a fantasy football points per reception (PPR) format. To me, this is an even closer call than David Johnson vs Le’Veon Bell. Due to his week-to-week and season-to-season consistency and high floor/ceiling combo, Antonio Brown will likely go ahead of Beckham and Jones in fantasy drafts. If you’re picking fourth in your draft, you have a decision to make. Beckham is a machine, and it’s entirely possible he takes a step forward in year four. But if you watched the NFL Top 100, you saw a consensus among NFL players that Jones’ skillset is second to none.
Splitting Hairs in Fantasy Football: Julio Jones vs Odell Beckham Jr. (PPR scoring)
They have similar ceilings, but Jones is a notch above Beckham. In 2015, Jones had 375 points (1,871 yards, 136 catches and eight touchdowns) which would have been good for WR1 by 68 points last year (Antonio Brown beat him by three points). In 2014, Beckham averaged 24.58 points over 12 games, which, projected to a full 16 games would have been good for 393 points, 1,740 yards, 121 catches, and 16 touchdowns. However, it’s worth noting that the most points Beckham has actually scored in a season is 319. Further, Beckham seemed to command more attention from defenses after his rookie year, which may be what has prevented him from returning to the type of ultra production he had that year (although he’s still extremely productive). We saw that type of production from Jones in 2015 when he was the focal point of defensive game plans every week. Giants off-season additions help in this regard for Beckham, and to be fair, the Falcons have a much better running game to help open up the passing game. But Julio actually having produced at that rate across 16 games before is significant in my mind.
Beckham has somewhat of a higher floor than Jones. He has yet to score under 295 points in a season, while Jones has scored as low as 260 twice since his rookie year (outside of the season he missed 11 games with his foot injury). However, both players have been relatively streaky considering their caliber. Last year, Beckham had six games under ten points, and four of those were under five points. Jones had five games under ten points with four of them under five points. Across their careers, Beckham has scored under ten points in 13 of 46 games (28 percent), and Jones has done so in 30 of 79 games (38 percent).
Injuries and Attitudes
It’s impossible to predict injuries, but they’re always a real concern for Jones; particularly regarding his foot. He has missed 18 of 96 potential regular season games (19 percent), including two last year for turf toe. On the other hand, he has only missed three games in the last three seasons. He had surgery in March to remove a bunion from his foot, but he recently said his foot was doing great. It doesn’t seem like there is any real concern that any past injuries will linger into this season. Beckham has only missed the first four games of his career in 2013 after tearing his hamstring in the preseason, although he did miss a game in 2015 for his scuffle with Josh Norman. Beckham’s attitude has only cost him one game thus far, but it’s something to monitor.
It’s unclear who will get more targets. Beckham out-targeted Jones 169 to 129 last year, but Jones led the league in targets in 2015 with 203 (to Odell’s 158). Although Beckham has some new company, he’ll still command a huge target share. What will be more interesting to watch is how the red zone targets shake out, as Brandon Marshall has been as good there as anyone (sans 2016), and Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram (in college) both had eight touchdowns last year. On the flip side, defenses won’t be able to pay as much attention to Beckham.
Given Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s statements, it wouldn’t be surprising if the touchdown gap between the two closed or even reversed this year. If Jones starts scoring touchdowns as consistently as Beckham, this is no longer a debate. However, Julio has only scored double digit touchdowns once in his career. Beckham has done it in all three of his NFL seasons. Further, there is doubt as to whether Sarkisian will be able to duplicate Kyle Shanahan’s version of the greatest show on turf, and many people think the Falcons offense is due for regression.
It’s worth noting that Beckham has an easier 2017 fantasy football playoff schedule. In weeks 15-17, Jones faces the Seattle Seahawks (fifth ranked secondary by Pro Football Focus), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15th), and the Minnesota Vikings (7th), while Beckham faces the Kansas City Chiefs (12th), Washington Redskins (26th), and Oakland Raiders (17th). Although both players are essentially matchup proof, and preseason power rankings can be tenuous, these are the types of factors you look at when splitting hairs.
You can’t go wrong with either one of these guys, but Jones appears to be the safer bet. To be sure, Beckham may be the safer pick with his consistent scoring and easier playoff schedule, but the prospect of a 2015 Jones with more touchdowns is too mouthwatering to pass up. Jones has been relatively healthy the past few seasons, has a new offensive coordinator that wants to feed him in the red zone, less competition for targets, and more consistent quarterback play. Both are physical freaks, but the players on the NFL Top 100 think Jones has more juice. He will likely be more motivated than ever after that Super Bowl loss. And finally, based off nothing other than intuition, Jones appears secretly motivated to catapult himself past Brown into a wide receiver category all by himself. All he has to do is score more touchdowns and be more consistent; he certainly has the tools to.